A diplomatic career appears interesting and even exciting to some, but in reality, it is filled with various routines and ceremonies, which are monotonous at times. At the same time, diplomacy requires dealing with a series of tense, if not conflicting, situations in which one must often find carefully measured compromises and solutions, when it is often not possible to say everything one would like. To compensate for such situations, diplomacy also includes social events, most often receptions for significant occasions. This allows some extent of relaxation, but still limits the opportunity of personal expression.
In my almost 30 years in diplomacy, I have noticed some new trends emerging, particularly communication via social media. Another such trend is the growing number of sports activities that bring some diversity and a healthier lifestyle to the lives of diplomats. During the 1990s in Beijing, we used to meet at an ice rink where we skated with families, and the more experienced participants competed in hockey. Occasionally, we even went skiing. We had similar habits in Moscow and Ottawa. Unfortunately, not all diplomats were able to ski or skate, so it all turned out to be a bit exclusive.
When Slovenia held the EU presidency for the first time in 2008, Beijing also hosted the Olympic Games in the same year. Therefore, we looked for opportunities in our diplomatic activities for events that will include other diplomats in the commemoration of these two important occasions. With some consultation, we came up with the idea of organizing a diplomatic run, because, unlike many other sports, practically anyone can take part in it. Running is an activity that people have been engaged in since the beginning of their existence. After a quick review of the response in the diplomatic corps, the idea developed and it was only necessary to find a suitable location, support services, and, of course, prizes that would attract as many participants as possible. In the end, the event was a success and fellow diplomats reminisced about the fun moments they experienced. This was a confirmation for us that we had come up with the right idea that was even welcomed by the Chinese media and officials.
Ambitious plan for Budapest
After 13 years, Slovenia took over the EU presidency again in 2021, but due to the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, it was executed slightly differently than in 2008. Unlike the previous presidency, my work took place in Hungary, which is one of the EU members; therefore, it was necessary to approach the task differently. A significant new circumstance was also the COVID-19 epidemic, which severely limited all live events. My arrival to Budapest was only two weeks before the start of the presidency when many plans should have been prepared. Nevertheless, in a short time, my colleagues and I put together an ambitious plan of events that we also managed to execute.
Budapest is also the city where I went on my first trip abroad in high school in 1976. Even then, I left the city with the realization that it has magnificent architecture, exceptional history, and a multitude of friendly people. With my limited knowledge of English and slightly better German, we successfully communicated, but I decided on my current arrival that I definitely needed to learn at least the basics of Hungarian. The progress is not very fast but my knowledge is improving day by day.
Over the past 30 years, Slovenia as a new country has often had to deal with a lack of visibility, and although this is somewhat different in the case of Hungary, there is always room for improvement. The Slovenian Presidency of the EU overlapped with the Hungarian Presidency of the V4, and it was a lucky coincidence that soon upon my arrival in Budapest, I was invited to a briefing on the Hungarian plans for its Presidency. In the past, Ministerial Commissioner for the Hungarian Presidency of the V4 presidency, Krisztina Varju, was also a diplomat at the Hungarian embassy in Slovenia, so we quickly got into a conversation before her speech. Among other things, she mentioned that a diplomatic run could be organized, and when I told her that we had organized a similar event during the Slovenian Presidency in Beijing, it was only a step towards a new project. We immediately agreed that we could organize a run for diplomats under the joint presidency of the EU and V4. For both of us this was regarded a great way of PR. The implementation of the whole idea was greatly facilitated by the possibility that this run could be organized as part of the annual Budapest Spar Marathon, which would save a lot of organizational and security tasks and greatly increase the visibility of the event. To my great delight, the idea was also accepted by the Race Director Budapest, Árpád Kocsis. Among other things, he kindly offered us to additionally print the logo of both presidencies on the running shirts and use our slogan ‘Run for a Safe Future’. All participants also received a medal and a digital diploma at the finish line.
Diplomats join the race
The motivation of diplomats to cooperate was a bit more challenging. The first reaction was that they didn’t have enough good runners. It took quite a bit of diplomatic skills and persuasion to explain that it is mainly about socializing in sports and reaching out to the public, who will see that diplomacy, is not just politics and that we diplomats promote sports with our active participation. Even when discussing the distance to be covered by the diplomats, we had to take into account, on the one hand, that the route should not be too long, as many would not decide to participate, and on the other hand, we had to find a distance that was nevertheless a sporting challenge. So, we opted for the 4x2-kilometer relay and obviously, our selection was a success. Despite the fact that the time to encourage participation was less than a month, we managed to attract 21 teams from different embassies
October 9 was a wonderful day and the atmosphere at the start was great. We met with diplomats and their family members, as well as Hungarian colleagues at the Embassies, and many met for the first time on this occasion. The organizer made sure that our participants had the same exciting atmosphere before the start of the race as the most professional runners who competed in other disciplines. I also experienced this myself, as I decided to accept the invitation of Árpád Kocsis to run another 10 km individual run in the morning. It is true that I was trying to save some strength for the diplomatic run as well, as it wouldn’t be right for my team to be at a disadvantage due to my fatigue. In the end, the combination proved to be successful, as we achieved good rankings in both performances.
According to the feedback, the diplomatic run was obviously successful, as many participants were very satisfied, and some of those who did not attend expressed their regret and hope to do so in the future. There were also quite a few questions about whether we would organize a diplomatic run next year as well. I definitely hope so.
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